Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Old Ship, New Library, Non-famous Hero

I binge read the November edition of the Smithsonian earlier this week. Found the following three articles extremely interesting.

The first was about a 500 plus year old warship that was recently found off the coast of Sweden.  The ship in question, called the Grubshunden, is believed to have been the flagship of King Hans who reigned over Denmark and Norway from 1481-1513.  Apparently, at the time of King Hans' rule, Sweden had broken away from an agreement called the Kulmar Union which had been in force for over 100 years. Hans was attempting to bring Sweden back into the fold.  Towards this end, he had commissioned the Grubshunden. Unfortunately, it is believed that a freak accident befell the great ship (the King was onshore at the time), then lay off the coast of Sweden from 1495 until 1971, when it was discovered by accident.  Even then however, the significance of the find remained unknown for another 30 years, when one of the divers who originally spied the wreck's protruding timbers, alerted local archaeologists.

The truly amazing part is that this particular ship was of a design totally unexpected.  In northern Europe at the time, boats were built by riveting overlapping planks to make a waterproof shell as compared to those made in southern Europe in which hull planks were placed edge to edge.  This "carvel" design enabled boats made in southern Europe to put more and heavier guns on their ships.  

So, not only is this the only ship of its size found intact, the Grubshunden has a "carvel" design.  In other words, it is the only example of the boat the type of boat used to make all the great "discovery" trips of the age.  This find also indicates the extent of communication between shipwrights of the time, and the global nature of boat building.

The second article was about a sea change taking place in some of our nation's library systems. The particular focus of the article was the system in Memphis, Tennessee.  Imagine going to a library to cut a music video, or make a short movie, or create a podcast.  Or start and run your own business.  The main thrust is to make the library more of a community center for everyone to gather, build contacts, improve their lives, and read a book, if so inclined.  Additionally, an outreach program has also been developed which brings the benefits of the library into the community to people who can't get to the physical building.  

After reading this article, learning about the many people who contribute as well as receive, it reminds me how "soft" infrastructure, a concept that seems completely foreign to the current version of the GOP, reaps a much better return on the dollar.  We sign off on the $750 billion dollar Department of Defense tab with barely a blink of an eye, but fight and scream about temporary deficits that might occur if we spend even one thousandth of one percent of that amount on improving communities and inspiring creativity in our children.

The third article was about Aristedes de Sousa Mendes.  This gentlemen was the consul general from Portugal stationed at the Portuguese embassy in Bourdeaux, France at the time of the German invasion during WW2.  The main point of the story is that Sousa Mendes issued visas to thousands of fleeing refugees, the vast majority of those visas being in contradiction to Portugal's dictator at the time, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.  Ostensibly, Portugal was neutral in WW2, but Salazar knew that his future depended on who came out on top, so this neutrality flowed from one side to the other as the war raged.  At this particular time in history, Salazar was reluctant to appear to help those fleeing Hitler's armies, so Sousa Mendes' actions did not please him.

Should you do some library research on this topic, you will read, unfortunately, that Sousa Mendes did not emerge from the conflict as a hero.  On the contrary, he was stripped of his position and his pension by Salazar, and spent much of his later years in poverty.  Although those he rescued by issuing those visas in Bordeaux, and two other nearby towns, were certainly grateful, there was little to connect all those people to know of the existence of so many like themselves.  It is only recently, through the work of some of the descendants of those who were saved by Sousa Mendes, that the true scope of his efforts have been understood.  

Such an inspiring story, both for its actual accomplishment in that literally tens of thousands of people alive today, owe their existence to his actions, either directly in indirectly through progeny, and the sometime hard to accept realization that doing great deeds does not guarantee great fame, or even any kind of public acknowledgement.  The actions themselves and the knowledge of the extent of the good that has been done may be the only "reward" one gains, yet still, everyday, unheralded heroes act in this manner, without fanfare or fame.  Thank goodness for that!   

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